After more than three decades of failing to meet climate targets, the federal government has released a new strategic plan to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP) is being applauded by environmental groups across the country for its ambition and clarity, though it has also faced some criticism over its approach to reducing emissions in the oil and gas sector.
On Wednesday, editor-in-chief of Canada’s National Observer Linda Solomon Wood sat down with federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault at the Globe Forum on Climate Change in Vancouver. The following is an excerpt of their conversation.
LSW: First of all, congratulations on releasing the climate plan; it’s been widely praised as the best Canada has ever had. And yet, here we are in 2022, and we haven't seen any big change in carbon pollution. What would you say to a young person scaling the CN Tower to demand more in terms of climate action, as you did in 2001?
SG: Well, I think we need to do better. And that's certainly something we've heard loud and clear from Canadians. When we came into power in 2015, Canada had a target of reducing emissions by 30 per cent, but no plans, no measures. In fact, what we were seeing is that emissions were going upward to 2030.
And what we've done between 2016, when the first climate plan was presented, and 2019, which is the last year for which we have data in terms of carbon pollution in Canada, we've managed to reduce that upward curve by 30 million tonnes. Quebec emits 80 million tonnes every year, so that's significant.
So the curve, we've flattened it, and now our goal and our mandate and our responsibility is to make that curve go down quickly towards our 2030 goals.
LSW: Most people don't really have a picture of what this transition looks like in real life. Can you give us your favourite examples of the energy transition in action?
SG: It looks like homes that people have to pay less money to heat and cool, lower energy bills because we're putting in place a massive retrofit program and we're doubling down on it. Yesterday, we announced even more money, hundreds of millions more, for home energy retrofits.
We're also ensuring that the electricity we consume in Canada, whether it's at home, in our businesses, companies, in the industrial sector, that this electricity is greener and going towards net zero.
And that's one of the one little-known success stories in Canada. This sector is decarbonizing rapidly. Many years ago, we adopted a law to ban the production of electricity using coal in Canada. And although the target is to ban it by 2030, we're already seeing significant changes in the sector. So much so that the sector will reduce its carbon pollution by 87 per cent by 2030.
It's about transforming our transportation sector. We’ve put in place incentives to help people who want to transition to electric vehicles.
That's a popular program. More than 150,000 Canadians have benefited from that program. And we're adding $1.7 billion to it because there's so much interest and we know that these measures work.
B.C. and my home province of Quebec basically have three times the sales of electric vehicles than the Canadian average because these two provinces have put in place measures to help people do that.
What they've also done is they’ve said to car companies, we will force you to make more of these vehicles available for customers.
LSW: A question about subsidies: a major funding source that many European nations use to incentivize electric vehicles is the bonus-malus system. They charge people buying new gas guzzlers a big fee and use that money to make EVs cheaper. This goes double duty by making gas guzzlers more expensive and EVs cheaper, and it shifts some of the funding burden from general taxpayers to the people doing the most emitting. Is Canada planning to bring a similar system?
SG: We already have a surtax on luxury vehicles in Canada, so this is a tool we're using. We're using many other tools in the transportation sector. I mean, I spoke about the mandate to force car companies to produce in Canada and to make more electric vehicles. We're doubling our targets in terms of deploying charging stations across the country. Our previous target was 25,000. We're ramping it up to 50,000.
LSW: Right, and on Monday, the government allocated $19 billion for fighter jets, and the TMX pipeline is costing Canadians over $20 billion. How can Canadians believe climate change is really the priority if the federal government is spending just $9 billion on its climate plan?
SG: What we announced yesterday was $9 billion on top of $100 billion (previously allocated). We've all agreed that we're in the process of deploying record-level investment in Canadian history in transit, more than $30 billion dedicated to transit. As a climate activist, I could only dream of a federal government that would be working in partnership with provinces to invest in more transit.
Three hundred new transit projects are under construction as we speak, while more than 1,000 are in the process of being approved and being developed. We spoke about investment in electrification and a record level of investment in energy retrofits.
That's why I think Canadians can be confident. We can spend our way out of climate change, and our approach has been an approach of carrots and sticks. We've put in place one of the most ambitious carbon pricing systems in the world. And I'm not the one saying that, the International Monetary Fund is saying that we've put in place very ambitious regulations when it comes to methane emissions.
We are on track to reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas sector by 40 to 45 per cent by 2025.
We're doubling down, going to 75 per cent methane emission reduction by 2030, which is one of the most ambitious methane emission reduction targets in the world — and we're an oil and gas producer. It's hugely ambitious. So, it's about money, for sure. But we also have to use other tools in our toolbox, including legislation, including regulations.
And that's how I think we can get to where we need to go.
Editor's Note: We'll be releasing the lengthier conversation between Solomon Wood and Guilbeault soon. Be sure to check it out to hear what the minister told Linda about the Bay du Nord project, methane emissions, the forestry sector, biodiversity, Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley, and more.